A woman named Maritza Velazquez, a staff writer for a paper called the San Gabriel Valley News, ran a story about the Mongols case Tuesday. Now this page has to point out how misleading and inaccurate most of what she wrote was.
Velazquez story was picked up by the Associated Press Tuesday afternoon and has since been repeated about 200 times in various newspapers and television news broadcasts. Attempts by this page to contact Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, and John Torres, the Special Agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), have been fruitless.
This page requested Mrozek comment in writing and he was unable to do that by the time this story had to be written. Torres ignored a request for comment. Both Mrozek and Torres were quoted in the News story.
Majority Plead Guilty
The lead news in the story is that “60 of 79 Mongols Motorcycle Club members arrested in a federal sweep have pleaded guilty to racketeering charges,” which is almost accurate. Seventy-nine men were arrested under an indictment voted by a Grand Jury in October 2008. One of them died in custody. One of them pled guilty to drug charges unrelated to any criminal conspiracy. And there have been 61 other plea and sentencing agreements in the case.
At least six of those pleas remain sealed because the prosecutors in the case have tried to shroud the proceedings in as much secrecy as possible. Most of the pleas have come since last summer, when it began to become obvious that the government would not allow the case to go to trial.
It appears that all but one of the pleas in the case have been to Count One of the indictment rather to what most laymen would consider an actual criminal offense. In pleading guilty to Count One the defendants admitted that they were part of a “criminal conspiracy” called the Mongols. In some case the actual “predicate offenses” to which the defendants pled guilty were things like possession of Mongols paraphernalia and participation in Mongols Motorcycle Club events.
The News story states that “19 defendants” are scheduled for a trial “set for April 13.” This page counts 16 defendants who are still hoping for a trial.
The News story quotes Mrozek as saying, “It’s likely the trial will be delayed because the judge assigned to the case is expected to retire in March.” Judge Florence-Marie Cooper is scheduled to retire March 15th. If the trial is delayed further it will be because defense attorneys and prosecutors are at an impasse about the release of information gathered by Confidential Informants and Undercover ATF Agents in the case.
The News story states that, “about ten of those who entered guilty pleas have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison,” which is totally inaccurate.
So far 17 defendants have pled guilty and been sentenced. The names of those defendants in the chronological order of their sentencing are: Juan Manuel Nieves; William Shawley; Christopher Loza; Manuel Jimmie Vasquez; Abram Wedig; Shawn Buss; John Newman; Denis Maldonado; Paul Cordova; Thomas Savala; Andres Rodriguez; Brian Mccauley; Bengy M Leyva; Mario Angulo; Aaron Price; Joseph Rudolph Valle; and Paul Lemay.
The average sentence given to these men was 34 months. Three of the defendants were given remarkably harsh sentences. Denis Maldonado was sentenced to 150 months; Paul Cordova was sentenced to 120 months; and Andres Rodriguez was sentenced to 82 months. Excluding the three stiffest sentences, defendants got an average sentence of 15 months. Eight of the men were either sentenced to supervised release, probation or time served.
The News story also states: “in October 2008, a federal judge barred the Mongols motorcycle gang from wearing or distributing its logo that often appears on leather vests and Harley-Davidson bikes. According to Torres, Mongols members appealed the ruling and a federal judge will consider whether the government has the right to bar the group from wearing its colors and displaying its logo.”
As has been reported here several times, the government actually lost a related civil case titled Ramon Rivera versus Ronnie A. Carter, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); John A. Torres, Special Agent in Charge, ATF Los Angeles Field Division; and Eric H. Holder, United States Attorney.
That case was adjudicated by Judge Cooper who ruled that the government does not have authority to seize either the Mongols word mark, which is the word “Mongols” or the Mongols patch. The government has promised Judge Cooper in writing that it will not try to seize those trademarks anymore. This page reported in August 18th that the government has already “lost” that part of the Mongols case. According to Federal Rules of Trial Procedure, the injunction the News mentions can not be formally lifted until after the conclusion of the criminal case – which the government appears to never want to try.
“That process is still moving forward,” the News quoted Torres, who has never heard of The Aging Rebel, as saying. “No one has ‘won’ the case. It’s just the message that we want to put out to them and other gangs that may use the same type of indica to identify themselves.”
By “message” Torres seems to mean “spin.”